It was so fun. Especially at home. Regionals is always a lot of fun, but especially when you get to do it in front of a home crowd. —MaKenna Merrell-Giles
SALT LAKE CITY — Heading into their final rotation at the six-team meet that was the NCAA Salt Lake City Regional, the Red Rocks were sitting pretty.
Sure, things could have gone better at the Huntsman Center Saturday afternoon.
Uneven bars had been a little shaky, Utah posted its season-worst score as a result, but the gymnasts had a sizable, if not commanding lead over the second place California Golden Bears.
MyKayla Skinner and MaKenna Merrell-Giles were performing well; the floor rotation had been superb and vault was solid.
A first place finish and a spot at Nationals seemed a foregone conclusion.
When senior Maddy Stover nailed her leadoff balance beam routine, with a season-high 9.875, Utah fans no doubt felt safe to book flights to St. Louis — that is if they hadn’t already.
As it turns out, they were right.
Led by Skinner, who claimed the all-around title with a 39.650, as well as Merrell-Giles and sophomore Missy Reinstadtler, who finished third and fifth, respectively, in the all-around, Utah defeated all comers with a final score of 197.475.
Cal finished in second place, claiming its own spot at Nationals, with a 196.725. Auburn came in third with a 196.525, with BYU (196.300), Stanford (195.600) and Southern Utah (194.625) bringing up the rear.
“That was fun,” said Merrell-Giles. “It was so fun. Especially at home. Regionals is always a lot of fun, but especially when you get to do it in front of a home crowd.”
“I loved every moment of it,” added Skinner. “Seeing the smiles on everyone's faces and starting off on floor and vault really well, it was a really exciting moment in time.”
The start to the meet was noteworthy. Utah began on floor and posted three straight 9.900s, courtesy of Kari Lee, Reinstadtler and Sydney Soloski. Merrell-Giles and Skinner closed the rotation with back-to-back 9.95’s giving the team a score of 49.600.
“The start on floor was incredible,” said Utah co-head coach Tom Farden. “I thought they did a good job controlling their aggression out there. I am really pleased with that.”
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, just having a lot of adrenaline on an event we usually finish with,” added Reinstadtler. “I figured we would still do well, but I wasn’t sure. When we went one after another, hitting our routines, like we always do, it was great and got us pumped up for the rest of the meet.”
Vault was a little less impressive, Utah scored a 49.350, but it was more than good enough, thanks to a 9.875 by Tiffani Lewis, and a pair of 9.900’s by Kim Tessen and Skinner.
While floor and vault were definitive successes for the hosts, bars and beam were otherwise.
Coming off a bye — each team had two bye’s during the meet, one after vault and the other following beam — the Red Rocks struggled on bars, particularly with their landings.
As a result, the team mustered only one score 9.900 or above and finished with a 49.200.
“We feel we left some tenths out on the table,” said Farden. “We had five out of six sticks at Pac-12s, and tonight we only had three. That was a little disappointing.”
Utah seemed to bounce back on beam, thanks to Stover’s leadoff routine, which may have been the best routine of her season.
Merrell-Giles followed with 9.90 and the scores looked likely to only improve from there.
Instead, they dropped significantly.
Soloski bobbled on her routine, and was immediately followed by Lee, who uncharacteristically fell.
While a berth at Nationals wasn’t in doubt — Utah was much too far ahead — the pressure was on Reinstadtler to secure the regional victory.
She did, in what was a career performance.
Reinstadtler scored a 9.925, her season-high and the highest score on beam by any gymnast.
“It gave me chills,” said Merrell-Giles.
“It was clutch," said Farden. “We have always believed in Missy. I always knew Missy had this potential, this ceiling to be incredible on all of the events, but for her to go out there with that demeanor — she just had a fire in her eyes.”
That routine, along with Skinner’s 9.900, was all the Red Rocks needed. The Salt Lake City Regional was theirs.
“Having one last meet at the Huntsman was great,” said Reinstadtler. “Having a great meet on top of it — it was a good time.”
1. UCLA 197.650
2. Arkansas 196.775
3. Ohio State 196.500
4. Boise State 196.225
5. Pittsburgh 195.125
6. Kent State 194.900
1. Oklahoma 198.000
2. Kentucky 197.050
3. Denver 196.275
4. Minnesota 196.100
5. Iowa State 195.925
6. Iowa 195.050
1. LSU 197.675
2. Nebraska 197.525
3. North Carolina State 196.050
4. Maryland 195.850
5. George Washington 195.425
6. Oregon State 194.975
Salt Lake City Regional
1. Utah 197.475
2. Cal 196.725
3. Auburn 196.525
4. BYU 196.300
5. Stanford 195.600
6. Southern Utah 194.625
1. Alabama 197.225
2. Georgia 196.500
3. Illinois 196.425
4. Michigan 196.350
5. Missouri 196.100
6. Central Michigan 195.825
University Park Regional
1. Florida 197.725
2. Washington 196.275
3. Arizona State 195.750
4. New Hampshire 194.950
5. Penn State 194.900
6. West Virginia 194.400